Go for Broke

How much money can a fiction writer expect, on average, for a first book? Assuming he's not a sap. I'm sure you have this somewhere in your FAQ list, but I couldn't find it. (it's not there)

Forget for a moment the speal about how a writer has to "bleed to succeed," and set aside the romantic "writing for the love" angle, and let's talk cashola. Some fella or dame wants to make a living as a fiction writer and has kids to feed and a mortgage to pay. What do blokes like that gotta do, assuming they can pass the Starting Gate and get published?

What sort of money are we talking about? How productive does the writer have to be? One 80k word book per year? Two per year? Twelve?

I know it's more like pricing wine than soda-pop, but even wine has general price RANGES. Like so,

Guy From Mars: "Hey, Earthling, how much does wine cost?"
Earthling: "About fifteen bux. That's for a standard 750ml bottle of table wine. Some is way more, some is way less. Stuff that's way more is probably really good. Stuff that's way less is probably not so great."

If you you want to pay a mortgage and feed the kids, this is the wrong career for you. VERY few writers make a living. Even fewer make a lot of money. Those that do tend to be people who've got backlist that keeps selling for years.

There's a reason a lot of writers have "other" jobs. It's not cause they like flinging suds, or washing duds, or donning scrubs...it's cause they need to earn some dough.

Average advances for fiction run under $10K. If you can live on that, screw writing fiction; write a how-to book.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response!

Aye. How To books is how I feed the fambly, that's a fact. But somehow it wasn't what I had in mind in college when I thought "Golly! I'm gonna be a writer!"

For what it's worth, your blog (and an old friend of mine who told me about you) has re-ignited my interest in writing fiction.

Thanks for the honesty.

Anonymous said...

Last time I heard the $10K figure it was average "income" a book generated for a writer. The paragraph went on to explain that all self-published books that never see a bookstore and I'm-jogging-the-tenure-track books were included as well.

I guess I assumed (clue gun?)the real figure was higher for authors who publish with mid-size and up publishers.

Besides, an agent would have to sell a truckload of books per year if their cut was only $1500 each and some office expenses. And we all know how much buying gin and fighting restraining orders cost.

Anonymous said...

If you want to see some un-scientifically collected (but still informative) author-payment ranges in the romance genre, google "Brenda Hiatt" and go to her "Show me the Money" page.

Heidi the Hick said...

Well. Having never made a single cent from writing, I'd like to just make enough money to feed the kids and feed the horses, dog, and cat. I'm lucky to have a husband with a job that we've both sunk a lot of effort into so that we can live (meagerly) on just his income.

I know that even if I do start making money from writing- which I intend to do-- it won't be a huge income, and it won't be soon. I'll be teaching riding lessons to buy hay and groceries. Now I just have to figure out how to ride and write and the same time.

Good think I taught the kids how to do laundry.

Kitty said...

Michael Bracken makes a living writing. He talks about it in Modern Pulp and 2006 in review. I doubt many writers are as versatile and as prolific as he is.

Jim C. Hines said...

Tobias Buckell did a survey of genre authors which put the median advance for a first novel at $5000. There's a lot more data, if you're curious.


Anonymous said...

Here's the link to the Haiatt page:


My first advance was for a 6-book contract was 1,833.00 for EACH book, half now, half on delivery.

That was in 1988. things have NOT improved much to reflect the cost of living.

Kalayna Price said...

I have contact with two authors who sold 'first books' last year.

The first landed a three book deal and six digits.
The other sold just the first book with an options clause, for four digits.

Both books are being released by (different) major publishing houses. Both authors had agents.

I'm thinking an average would be a hard number to come up with for first sales, but the author who earned the lower amount is on a more common track.

Therese said...

For $20, you can subscribe to Publishers Marketplace and search their Deals database using prescribed ranges. This will give you a pretty good idea of what most books sell for.

Not every deal gets posted, however--I suspect those with the lowest advances almost never do. Still, it's an eye-opening exercise.

Anonymous said...

My agent's first deal got me a 2-book (nonfiction) advance of $160k. But it's gone down every year since.

And yes, I make a comfortable living writing nonfiction but much of that's done for corporate clients and syndication and spokesperson gigs. *shrug* These days, writing fiction probably pays about as well as nonfiction books.

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute...most people DON'T live on 10k a year?

Mark said...

I've lived on that for years. In LA even.

Anonymous said...

First book: $3000
Second book: $4000
Third book: $15,000

But the third book took longer than the first two to write. So we're still not talking making a living here.

Anonymous said...

$10,000 advance sounds fabulous to me - that's almost one year's wages as a part-time cashier. If I could get an advance like that every year, I'd quit my job and write full-time (assuming my husband keeps on chugging along with his job.)

Anonymous said...

Dean Wesley Smith just recently posted a related topic on his forums, here:


Worth reading.

Anonymous said...

5-10k is fairly typical for a first novelist- although you may have additonal funds coming in from foreign sales. This is another reason you want a savy agent- they can negotiate this for you and push the sales. When I was selling my first book the divine Rachel Vater advised me to refuse one offer that was for world rights. She worked another deal where we sold only North American rights. Allow me to say I owe her many gin pails (although she is more of a martini gal) in thanks for the advice. Have a great agent and then trust their business advice.

Anonymous said...

Nonfiction. 1st book: $3,000 (1993), 2nd book: $11,000 (1999), 3rd book: $14,100 (2003). 1st book sold 100,000 copies and stayed in print 10 years. 2nd book didn't earn out the advance (still in print). 3rd book went into multiple printings (sold about 20,000 copies).

Fiction: 2-book deal in 2006 for $50,000.

Anonymous said...

"...screw writing fiction; write a how-to book."

But, be sure you have a PLATFORM or your how-to book may be harder to sell than your novel.

Anonymous said...

First time I ever saw green money for my writing was a lost dog poster!

Haste yee back ;-)

Anonymous said...

$10,000 advance sounds fabulous to me - that's almost one year's wages as a part-time cashier.

Yeah, but it's going to take at least as much time to write that book and earn that 10K as a writer--and you're on your own for both double the usual self-employment tax and all your office supplies.

Anonymous said...

Heyyyy, I could write that book! How to Live Comfortably on $10,000 a Year or Less. Look for it in bookstores. ;-)

That means there's hope for me to actually earn...what is it again, a living? yeah, that thing, off my writing. Right? :-P

Anonymous said...

And don't forget that you have to pay your agent, your self-employment taxes, and all of your publicity costs (websites and etc.) Most writers I know spend a big portion of their advance check on stuff like this.